May 27, 2011

Dove Body Wash ad sends mixed message


A Dove ad for VisibleCare Creme Body Wash sends a mixed message. The models in the ad feature a curvy black woman, a Latina and a slim white woman. The weight/skin color transition is inferred - intentionally or not - with "before" and "after" references. The "before" above the black model is on a large panel showing cracked skin - "after" above the white model shows smooth, perfect skin.

The tagline could be "get-whiter-and-slimmer with Dove Body Wash!" On the face of it, a ridiculous suggestion because the Body Wash isn't a skin-lightening product. Nonetheless the ad could be interpreted that way.

A Dove spokesperson denied there is anything racist going on in the ad:

All three women are intended to demonstrate the "after" product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.'

Ok but how come the designers of the ad and the people who approved it failed to see the potential for misunderstanding? It's a mixed message at best. If all three models demonstrate the "after" look, why weren't they placed in a different order to avoid negative perceptions?

It is a stretch to call the ad racist, but the set-up lays it open to the charge.

In more general terms... the fashion industry has been criticized for favoring white models over models-of-color. Beauty-related ads have been criticized for skin lightening - for example this bizarre L'Oreal ad featuring Beyonce.

Also link to: The Root - This Week